Dragon*Con 2016, and all that it means

We went, we saw, we took a shitloads of pictures. And for the first time in my life, I dressed up in cosplay. And it was awesome.

So. For those of you just joining us, Dragon*Con is probably the second largest fan convention of media and games after San Diego Comic Con. I could be wrong. However, I know Dragon*Con is far better than SDCC, because (1) you can afford the entry tickets, (2) you can actually get into panels you want to see, and (3) there’s so much to do, if you think you’re not going to get into a certain panel, there are at least 3 others on at the same time you can have a crack at.

And, oh yeah, there are at least 3 parties every night that you can flit between. With alcohol.

My mate and I originally went to D*C in 2010, but we knew we would one day go again. We had no time frame. Skip years later, and she now has a fiancé with two teenage kids. I, on the other hand, have had nearly 3 years of living back in England and being close to terminally bored. We decided that 2016 would be the year to revisit D*C - coinciding with its 30th anniversary. Sorted.

Costumes. It took me less than a minute to name my first one. But then I wanted a second, too. So I planned and researched and emailed, and within a few months I had not only sewing patterns for both, but also the details of a professional seamstress - who would shortly be making my costumes for me. Other parts of the finished articles were actually harder to get - boots, pins, badges, earrings, belts, and even a nose. But I did find them, and over what seemed like years but was actually only 8 months, I put together two complete costumes.

Who did I want to go as? Hmm. This is a bit of a story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:

Way back in the dim and distant, I was a student. I had no real female role models, due to family circumstances and some old-fashioned attitudes to TV going on around me. Basically, there were no women on TV. Apart from Dana Scully, things were looking bleak. My dad used to have re-runs of Star Trek (TOS) on during the week when I was very young, and so when Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared during my secondary school years, I was curious enough to watch it (but perhaps not old enough to critique it. That and the fact that I was not yet a professional cynic). I liked it - I liked Tasha Yar as head of Security. And we all know what happened to her.

It would be a long time before Star Trek got another crack at me. In the meantime, I had Laura Holt of re-runs of Remington Steele fame to tide me over, as well as Dana Scully and Beverly Crusher. Deanna Troi got better as the seasons went on, but again, her character was normally an afterthought. The Star Trek Trio of three straight white dudes being the all-important triumvirate had not yet been threatened. We had gone from Kirk - Spock - Bones to Picard - Riker - Data. And still I was attempting to find who I was in a male-orientated, controlled environment.

Just as I was going through my GCSEs (end of secondary school exams when you’re 16, if you’re not familiar with the English school system), there were mutterings of a new Star Trek show. It finally debuted on BBC2 and I got to see a few episodes before my personal life went tits-up. But still throughout the rocky events and familial wars, there was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I was still struggling to work out who I was and why, and there was no-one around to help with that.

And then along came Major Kira.

She’s pretty much a legend in Star Trek circles. Like her or hate her, you certainly couldn’t ignore her. She had common sense, some tech and survival learning, was a bit of a fighter and marksman, and carried herself like someone who didn’t so much need self-confidence as just didn’t have time for people who thought their opinion of her was important. She did a few things that made TV audiences angry: she was a woman who voiced her opinion as if she were allowed one; she backed up her arguments with facts and reasons like she had thought it through even with her tiny female brain that should have been full of love interests and rom-com shit; she was not afraid to shout someone else down and, by all the gods and all of their brothers, you were not entitled to belittle her ideas or her opinions just because she wasn’t a man. Back in the real world of women being taught to conceal their emotions for fear of being told they’re just being ‘hysterical’, this woman who stood her ground and shouted in people’s faces, who called people out for being dicks, who owned up to making mistakes and spoke to people with the respect they deserved - it was ground-breaking for me. I was 17, and this was all new. It was magical. It was everything.

Of course it helped that the actress playing Kira Nerys was not exactly tall or built like a brick shit-house. Five foot seven she may have been, but she was a hundred pounds of fury and determination. She had excellent episodes where she was mad as hell and not going to take it any more, as well as stories that showed she could reconsider her belief system based on evidence and new discoveries. She taught me how to stand up straight and not care if people looked at me. She taught me I was allowed to take up space when I sat down on public transport. She taught me how to reply to people who didn’t realise I knew I had a right to voice an opinion. She taught me how to divorce indifference from things I just could not relate to; she taught me how to objectively weigh up my options, to step back and try to see things from other angles. And yes, she taught me that respect is not given until it’s earned.

So we had a black dude running DS9 - Commander Benjamin Sisko. He started off as a jagged edge, a weird square peg that didn’t want his square hole. In time he came to understand how to squeeze into the round hole he did want, and that was fine. He also learnt how to get on with his liaison officer Kira Nerys, and they became a closer Captain and First Officer than that of any other series. (Seriously, I will fight people on that point. I think I have at some time or other.) Already we were so far from the 3 straight white dude triumvirate we were used to. Maybe that’s why I gave the show more chances to impress me than TNG.

Whatever the reason, as the series went on it became obvious who else was getting more screen time and was Sisko’s rock, his confidant, his aid in all things: Jadzia Dax. A Trill symbiont, Dax ‘cheated’ death by moving from host body to host body upon that humanoid’s imminent death or through illness. Before Dax was joined to the humanoid female Jadzia, it was joined with Curzon - an ornery old man who loved klingons, wrestling, picking up twins on Risa for a one-night stand, and trying to teach a young Starfleet officer called Benjamin Sisko how to be a man. Right off the bat, we have a very interesting dynamic: the young woman who appears to be barely thirty years old is actually closer to three hundred and sixty, and has been Sisko’s father figure for at least thirty years. When he needs help and advice, he goes to Dax. When he needs to rant about Starfleet, it’s Dax. When he needs to angst about his son, or get feedback on a battle plan, it’s Dax. The symbiont, in various hosts, had been married as a husband and a wife, been a son and a daughter, died in shuttle accidents and lived out to a ripe old age. Dax had seven lifetimes of experience to draw on - and Sisko did just that. He listened to her counsel, he considered her words. Her opinions had weight with him - and as the seasons sped by, I realised not only was she the third point of the triangle, but she was someone I wanted to be when I grew up.

Sitting down and thinking about the two costumes - uniforms - I would wear to D*C wasn’t too hard, then. No other characters have had as much of an impact on me as Kira Nerys and Jadzia Dax, just when I needed them. While the Bajoran nose prosthetic I bought for Kira just would not stick (seriously wtf is that made of?), and I had no hope of copying Jadzia’s Trill spot patterns, I wore both uniforms and I enjoyed the shit out of them. I walked down streets in Atlanta in broad daylight wearing either a Bajoran militia uniform or a Starfleet NEM/DS9 jumpsuit, and I was happy.

And here’s the magic of D*C: I wasn’t self-conscious because I was in costume - I have already been in the happy bubble of exactly no shits given about who looks at how I dress for years. However, when people in their costumes saw me on the street, they called out ‘Major!’, or ‘Kira!’, or ‘Hey, Starfleet!’. And I did it too.

We loved, and we were loved.

There was such a brilliant vibe of appreciation, of sharing, of plain wonder - and it was the best feeling in all the worlds. That’s what D*C is for me: sharing the fandom. And I don’t mean the Star Trek or Doctor Who or Mad Max or Jurassic Park or Harley Quinn or Pokemon fandom. I mean fandom as one single event, one giant mess of people unashamed of loving that one thing in their lives.

We got back Wednesday morning. It’s now Saturday night. I’m nearly over the jetlag, and I think returning to the ‘meh’ness and general malaise that comes with going back to live in a country you’re too familiar with hasn’t quite set back in yet. After all, there’s the DragonCon.tv streaming membership I purchased, so I can see a few panels I couldn’t get to, and some of the excellent TV moments from people who tweeted questions and opinions live. Thankfully or otherwise, Captain Kirk was not climbing a mountain this year.

That’s pretty much all the news that’s fit to print. I did make a list of things that I knew I’d need to remember about the con, but that’s for another post, seeing as this one is already longer than my wish list for Things From Another World.

Until I’m back, be proud of what you love and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be.

Peach and lube, people, peach and frelling lube.

Vote Remain

I’m not joking. If you don’t, tiny-minded parochial xenophobes will vote ‘leave’ and we’ll be out of the EU after the next 2 years of all the umming, arring, writing, rewriting, arguing, debating, negotiating but giving in - ALL AT COST TO THE UK TAXPAYER - as we try to work out how to keep trading with Europe.

Get it into your heads, people. THE EU REFERENDUM HAS NO IMPACT ON IMMIGRATION. It doesn’t matter what you vote on 23rd June, the number of immigrants coming into the country will not reduce - not in a year, not in 2 years, not in 10. Voting ‘leave’ will not change the number of immigrants coming into the country. A good job, too, because after we’ve paid out welfare to these people, we still make a profit of £20 billion a year in PAYE tax, NI and other fiscal by-products out of them.

However, all this might increase the number of emigrés. Who are they? They’re the ‘ex-pats’ who leave the UK to live overseas. They’re literally immigrants of another country. That’s how it works. So when people bitch and moan about immigrants coming over here, not learning enough English, and (1) taking all our jobs whilst (2) taking all our welfare benefits (a neat trick, considering), remember that’s exactly what English people do when they move to Spain, or Italy, or France, or Dubai, or Canada, or the USA. I know, because I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. I’ve lived as an ex-pat for over a decade (except I went to their university to learn the language). And when I came back to the UK, I found it in this piss-poor state: full of selfish, xenophobic arseholes.

Only 7% of UK laws are actually influenced or controlled by the EU. So if we leave, we’ll actually have to pay for UK politicians to try and scrape together their own versions. We don’t even have our own Human Rights Act. Yes, you read that right. We basically nicked the European Convention on Human Rights, spelt a few words differently, and called it a UK law in as late as the year 2000. Yes, 2000. The European Convention on Human Rights was originally made up in 1950. Hmm.

Do you really want people like David Cameron making actual laws? Do you want the bunch of self-serving spongers in the House of Lords and Commons debating the meanings of these laws for the next 10 years? After all, there’s no pressure to actually bring any new laws to replace the EU ones we already had into being. I mean, you do the job quickly and you don’t have anything else to do for the next few years, right?

Maybe they could spend it digging the NHS out of the hole that leaving Europe would case. 33,000 European midwives alone would be put in a really bad situation. Either they leave the UK, and we lose all those necessary and SKILLED carers (because let’s face it, it’s not like we’re short of carers in the UK… OH WAIT), or they stay and have to work under UK legislation that isn’t even in place yet. Maternity rights and protected payments? EU law. Working hours capped to 48 a week? EU law. The fact that your Amazon parcel and your vegetables have no import tax? EU law. But no, feel free to throw that all away. Feel free to cut us off. After all, every man is an island, and doesn’t need help from anyone. Screw the UK farmers who can no longer freely trade with Europe. Screw the people who want to buy imported goods in supermarkets, shops, stores, and online without paying horrendous import fees. Screw being part of something bigger, part of something that aids neighbouring countries and makes pan-world laws like those on pollution, or terrorism. Screw it.

I mean, we pay £50 million a day to the EU, and what for? Well, after you’ve taken off the rebates we get from the EU, it’s actually £14 million a day. Oh, and we get £66 million a day in investment from the EU. But never mind all that - what about these pesky immigrants?

We’ve had more immigrants from non-EU countries in the past 40 years than from the EU. I know - crazy, right? But how come everyone here seems to be Polish now? Fuck off. 0.29% of the UK is from the EU. Yes, you read that right. Not even a third of a percent. But again, this has nothing to do with leaving the EU. We will still have immigrants, and we will still let them in. Because our politicians, rightly or wrongly, do nothing to strengthen our actual immigration laws. And these are the same politicians who will have to negotiate a new agreement to trade within EU regulations. Good fucking luck.

I’m voting to stay, for all the reasons above and for the fact that I work in Payroll, and I see people’s payslips every day. I also sit in the HR office, so I listen to how people are protected by procedure and laws that we wouldn’t have if we weren’t in the EU. I also hear people talk about how they need to stay in the EU or they lose their jobs as translators for France, or sales admin for Germany, or their supply lines from China. Yes, China. Leaving the EU doesn’t just harm trade within the EU, it also jeopardises trade deals with other countries - because we’re no longer bound by EU regulations, which means other countries have no idea how we’re regulated.

Frankly, neither do we.

One thing’s for damn sure: we’re never going to reach a United Federation of Planets like this. And that makes me want to become an ex-pat again. Preferably of another planet.

Faith in the Path

Actually done some writing. For reasons I've probably been over and over in recent posts, things are looking mostly up for a change and I’ve felt like working on things again.

Ladies, gentlemen, boths and neithers, I give you:

Title: Faith in the Path

Rating: Rated T/Teen and Up for some shooting, peril, O’Brien’s mouth, and references to war. I make no apologies.

The orb of time has business with DS9 and the crew of a certain Enterprise ship classification NX-01. Episodically canontastic. Takes place after DS9 5x19 Ties of Blood and Water and ENT 4x21, AKA the Actual Last Episode. Alert: I have been and always shall be a TnT shipper.

I do not own Star Trek in any of its forms or any of the characters. This is all for fun, not for profit. Unless you add me to any favourites lists or leave comments. Then I profit in the knowledge that someone thinks it’s pretty good.

Contains: The crew of DS9, the crew of Enterprise. Bad guys, uncertain times and some bodily damage and hurt/comfort.

Linky-link-link: HERE at An Archive of Our Own under my name TozaBoma (because they don’t re-edit your stuff later) and HERE at Fanfiction dot net under my name Mardy Lass.

If you even visit the page, I thank you.

You can’t sing the blues in an air-conditioned room

A while ago I wrote about how I’d finally left a place of work that I no longer fitted, for so many reasons. I wrote about how enthusiastic I was to be starting something new. Well it’s been two months at my new job. Result?

Pretty fucking happy, to be honest.

When I bring things up that need changing, instead of the old ‘Do not change that. Do not change anything. We’ve done it like this for thousands of years because the first person who did fucked it up and now it can never be changed’ that I got at my old job, I now get ‘Do you think it’ll work better this new way? We’ll try it and see. Let me know how you get on. But it should be fine.

It’s a lot to get used to. The freedom to actually effect change and make things better is something you always dream of, but once you get it… It feels weird. And then the secondary consequence kicks in: Am I right? What if I’m full of shit and this idea crashes and burns? What if it’s worse than what we had before? How do I know I’m right?

Over time you get used to the uncertainty, you get used to the risk and you realise that, as the great Baz Luhrmann once said, ‘your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.’ That line, that one collection of words from a track that came on my iPhone halfway to work, changed my entire outlook one morning. The incredible idea that it’s not me that isn’t sure, it’s everyone, all humans in general, made me a lot happier about the uncertainty of ideas I came up with to help me transition into my new job.

And then I got paid. I had more money left over than I thought once I’d paid all my bills and also for some unforeseen work done to my car (which is now running like a fucking F1 car, thanks for asking). It was weird - I could save some money. So I did. And when I got paid again, I saved more. And then, one day at the supermarket, I bought something not because I needed it, but because I’d always wanted to know what it tasted like but it had always been too expensive.

That was epic, for me. I found I could have more than one pair of trousers for work. I bought new work shoes, because quite frankly the others were rough as a bear’s arse and should have been thrown out a long time ago. I did my food shop and had provisions left over at the end of the fortnight - I actually have tinned and packaged food stored, that I don’t have to stretch out till the next big shop. I changed my credit card to one of them zero percent balance transfer things - which means I can actually pay it off in my life time. I paid a garage to do work on my car, instead of trying to half-arse it myself.

It’s all new, it’s all strange, but it’s slowly making me slip into this idea that I can do things other than ignore everything I can’t afford. I can take my blinkers off and look at ideas.

I was just getting used to this, and thinking how easy it was to hire a car to go off to another city for a long weekend to attend a convention (in the same country!), when someone needed my help with their payslip. I am payroll after all, and it was me that produced it. We talked over the meanings of all the addings and subtractings thereon, and they went away happy.

But I wasn’t. It suddenly dawned on me what had happened. I wasn’t one of them any more. I was now one of those people who Had, one of those people who wasn’t living hand to mouth, dependent on their pay cheque, because they were not a Had Not.

Progress, for me. But now I felt bad for having managed to lift myself out of the mud and make something a little better for myself. I’m still on literally half the salary of people close to me, but I don’t care. This salary is more than I’ve ever had, and for a while I was proud of it. Now I’m not sure if I deserve it - what makes me more deserving than that person with with payslip?

The answer, the Dax part of me says, is experience. Theirs lies somewhere useful, but not rare. Mine, luckily, lies in a field that normally attracts more responsibility and therefore risk - and reward. Which Rule of Acquisition is it that states ‘the riskier the road, the greater the profit’? Whichever one it is, it’s not wrong.

So why do I feel like Major Kira, having to confront a man who is exactly the person she was before she herself was lifted up from the mud into a better position, due to her experience?

Why do I feel guilty as I walk past people, on two-thirds my salary for a harder physical job than mine, to my car and then drive home with an iPhone 5S connected to the stereo, offering me Siri to help choose music and text people hands-free as I get there?

Underdog. It’s an underdog thing. Kira was always the underdog - until she was given a commission in the new military and a fancy new job. I always thought I was the underdog - not qualified, not properly trained, just getting by through teaching myself and working long hours. I’m not that person any more. Now I ask for training, and they provide it. Now I leave on time and enjoy my drive home. My writing has picked up again, and now it’s happier, more whimsical, more fun than it has been in about two years. Everything seems to be easier, the wheels more greased, more doors open to me.

It’s true what they say. You can’t sing the blues in an air-conditioned room. Maybe I should just suck it up and get over it. What price serenity?

Star Trek is dead; long live Star Trek

People often ask me ‘Star Wars or Star Trek?’. That’s like choosing between bacon and sausages. Star Wars is without a doubt a big part of my life - I grew up worshiping spaceships, and the people behind them. I loved the world building, the myriad different places and people, the way anyone could be seen as a background character and suddenly have Timothy Zahn write an entire novel about them. That freedom of space travel, of the way characters had a ship and did whatever they wanted with it. It was magic.

But Star Trek is a-whole-nother animal. It’s a system of beliefs, an idea - an ideal - that changed my perspective on people, places and even Star Wars. And let me tell you why.

At the heart of Star Trek you have its ideals. It started off in 1966 as a show where people in the far-flung future had already outgrown petty things like race, gender, age, ability. Instead you had this wonderful notion that people could just be themselves and not try to get along despite their differences, but work together brilliantly because of their differences. There was a spaceship, and aliens who either just wanted to be understood or just wanted the humans to understand themselves. There was a firm triangle of command and support - Kirk, Spock and Bones are legendary. Just one year after over 500 non-violent civil rights marchers were attacked by law enforcement officers while trying to defend the need for African American voting rights, here was a show that had a black person on the bridge in a pivotal position - and a female one, at that. It had an alien crew member as part of the trusted three, in an age where Communist witch hunts and ‘they’re not like us’ arguments were rife. And, bearing that last point in mind, it had a Russian on the bridge, and a Japanese character. Star Trek was indeed pushing the envelope, in terms of what it could get away with and what it needed to get across. It was life-changing, while at the same time reassuring; if the the top two blokes in command could do what they did, if the crew around them supported and followed them because of their actions, why couldn’t real life do the same?

So it boils down to the two basic ideals that made Star Trek what it is: that the universe is full of infinite diversity in infinite combinations, put against the backdrop of the Prime Directive. Simply put, everyone is and should be free to be whatever they are, but at the same time, it’s not for you to interfere if you think they’re doing it wrong. And that, my friends, is what the 2010s are all about. We have stories of ‘gay marriage’ (otherwise known as ‘marriage’) causing controversy all over the world. We have stories of transgender people becoming more and more important and apparent in media. We still have problems with people of colour getting or keeping acting roles. More people are protesting at the inequalities of this life we’ve made for ourselves, and due to social media platforms they are getting heard. ‘The twenty-first century is when everything changes’, as Jack Harkness was fond of saying. But changes into what?

I could go into the Donald Trumps of this world, and how they are throwing us back into the Dark Ages. I could say that everything he is doing, and stirring up in one of the most financially influential countries on the planet, is tantamount to kicking Gene Roddenberry and his like-minded crew in the balls wearing hobnail boots. But I won’t. Instead I’ll say he has to be stopped - whether that means letting people vote him in as President, and thereby giving him enough rope to hang himself so he’s voted out or impeached; or just trusting that the average American is the product of how Obama has left the country a better place, and will reject Trump as the factually racist, misogynist and downright harmful person he is.

Does this make Star Trek less important? No. It makes Star Trek more needed than ever. People still need that vision of What Could Be; every person, no matter what colour or gender, needs something to believe in. In 1966, Nichelle Nicholls received fan mail from little girls of colour who were just stoked to see someone like themselves on TV. Famously, Whoopi Goldberg saw her and was so excited she shouted through the house to her mother “Come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!

As far as other kinds of social norms go, Star Trek gave us one of the first interracial kisses on TV (after the ITV show ‘You in Your Small Corner’ showed Lloyd Reckord and Elizabeth MacLennan kissing in 1962). The episode ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’ showed Kirk and Uhura educating viewers as to what had been going on for hundreds of years with no ill effects, and yet made a percentage of the filming crew and audience squeamish. With Shatner and Nicholl’s judicious sabotage of alternative versions, the scene was not only shot but got through - and it challenged people. The Next Generation gave us a body swap and gender issue in the case of the Trill with whom the doctor falls in love, in season four’s ‘The Host’. It fell short of the obvious answer the audience was rooting for, but for 1991, it wasn’t bad in the knocking on the glass ceiling department. It was a story line that was pretty much retackled and fixed by the Deep Space Nine episode ‘Rejoined’, aired in 1995, where Dax has to work with Kahn, a scientist - and her wife in a previous life. The first (but not last) lesbian kiss in Star Trek was met with anger, backlashes and utter regression. But in the same way as the Star Trek episode ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’, all it did was bring something that people do every day into the limelight - and letting people know it’s ok.

What I’m saying is, Star Trek is more relevant now than ever before. People (including children) need to see how things could be, how they can make the world better. I’m old, and I’m jaded, but even I believe anything is possible after watching a Star Trek movie (an even numbered one - or an odd numbered one if it’s one of the 2009+ reboots).

With a new series apparently in development, I have high hopes for how they will cast and write it. After all, in 2016, you have a huge responsibility. You have to have an idea of who your demographic is and what they need from it, and in the same way as Whoopi Goldberg gets to see a ‘black lady’ on TV, you have to be representative of the planet. A genderfluid Captain maybe, as someone who’s got their life together and accepts what they are - and so does everyone else. The heterosexual crew being in the minority, as gay, bisexual and omnisexual crew members just quietly get on with their lives without their sexuality being their defining trait. The offset of (identifying) male-female split more true to the planet (i.e. 51% are actually female). Remember that shot of the Enterprise crew members from Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979?

More of that, and less of JJ Abrams / network / studio nagging and worrying over how they’re not going to make money because they’re not doing exactly the same as last time.

Star Trek is about moving forward, about breaking new ground, about shining a light on things that are wrong with our world by playing out a metaphor on another. So let’s do that again; let’s have a new crew, a new ship, a way of working through what’s wrong with the planet and making people aware of how they are the first point of call to effect change.

At time of writing, I’m hopeful for the new series. We have Bryan Fuller (who gave us the DS9 episodes ‘Empok Nor’ and the stellar ‘The Darkness and the Light’, before going onto Voyager) and Nicholas Meyer (who gave us the screenplays for Star Trek II, IV and VI - otherwise known as three of the four best Star Trek movies) attached to the presently unnamed new show. Time will tell what they do with it, but I’m wishing and hoping they actually break ground, as Enterprise completely failed to do. The network there even backed off from showing an interspecies romance several times - and that was as vanilla as it could have been as they were human and Vulcan, and heterosexual. The aliens and wars used were nothing we hadn’t seen before, and it seemed that many of the episodes just simply finished instead of gearing up for something greater.

All I want is to move forward. I await the new show with great anticipation - but part of me is already steeling myself for disappointment. If they can pull something out of the bag - the next Farscape, Mr Robot, or Agent Carter, then I’ll be happy. But it has to be something new - after all, that’s Star Trek.